by Roberto Verzola

Uni-directional electric meters are like electrified barbed wires that confine villagers inside a hamlet. Utility customers are locked in, unable to take advantage of the cheap solar electricity that one gets from a simple grid-tied configuration. Anyone who tries climbing over the wires gets electrocuted. Instead of enjoying solar savings, they are punished severely and charged for trying to share their surplus with neighbors.

Utilities offer to replace the electrified barbed wires with a bi-directional electric meter, so that the customer can avail of the benefits of net metering. But the offer of release from confinement comes with a cost:

  • the customer has to pay for the bi-directional meter – which the electric utility should be installing anyway to prepare itself for the smart grid of the future;
  • the customer has to pay for new and higher net metering charges; and
  • some utilities also insist that the customer get a city hall/municipal electrical permit, another unnecessary requirement for small installations that involve about as much power as an electric range, a wall-type air conditioner, or a booster pump.

If the customer, eager to solarize his rooftop to save on electric bills and become more Earth-friendly, signs the net metering contract with the utility anyway, he is still in for a big disappointment. The agreement that the customer actually signs is not a net metering contract, but a net billing contract! That is a big difference.

Net metering, as provided by the Renewable Energy Act, its Implementing Rules and Regulations, and the net metering guidelines of the Energy Regulation Commission, requires electric utilities to charge its customers only the difference (or net) between the customer’s kilowatt-hour (kWh) consumption and the customer’s solar surplus that she exports to the grid. Thus, a solar owner can use her daytime solar surplus to offset an equal amount of nighttime consumption.

There are no ifs or buts about this: the RE Act, its IRR and the ERC rules and crystal-clear: net metering means offsetting kWh of electricity. But the contract that the customer is told to sign is actually a net billing contract. The utility will price its electricity at retail, and the solar owner’s surplus lower (at its average generation cost, which is roughly half of retail). The offsetting is done with pesos, not with kWh, contrary to law.

Having gotten out of the unidirectional meter barbed wire, the customer signs a “net metering” contract only to find himself locked into another unfair arrangement where the utility, through various utility charges, gets first collection rights to the customer’s prospective solar savings, and then the customer has to sell his solar surplus at half the price of what the utility is charging him.

Despite this clear violation of the RE Act, we have not heard a peep nor a squeak from energy officials, either from the executive or the legislative branch. No wonder, despite the declining costs of solar, the spread of solar in Philippine rooftops has occurred at a glacial pace.

Photo by PxHere